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14 Educational Movies No Student Should Miss!

Updated: June 19, 2024 | Published: January 23, 2017

Updated: June 19, 2024

Published: January 23, 2017

14 Educational Movies that Can Change the World

Educational movies aren’t limited to non-fiction films, narrated in monotone and projected onto a whiteboard in darkened classrooms that you’ve sat through at some point in your academic careers.

Good educational films are also movies you’ve seen in theaters. Like good teachers, they have challenged, inspired, scared, angered, and moved you. Here are 14 of the best movies for students that are fun to watch but also have some important messages.

Educational Movies for Students

1. Good Will Hunting 

Year: 1997

Rated: R

Actors: Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Ben Affleck, Minnie Driver, Stellan Skarsgard

Genre: Drama

A janitor at M.I.T. is discovered to be a mathematical genius after solving a graduate-level equation nobody else has been able to. His brilliant mind comes with a troubled personality and he’s unwillingly paired with a therapist as part of a probation agreement after getting arrested. While the math professor who wrangled the probation agreement only sees him as a project, the therapist sees the whole person and pushes him to have the courage to create his own path.

This heartwarming movie delivers important messages about being true to yourself, the importance of solid friendships, and using your gifts even in the face of fear and self-doubt. This remains among the best films for students!

2. Freedom Writers

Year: 2007

Rated: PG-13

Actors: Hilary Swank, Scott Glen, Imelda Staunton, Patrick Dempsey, Mario

Genre: Drama

A young English teacher takes a job teaching at-risk students at a high school where racial tensions run high and gangs are ever-present. Her world is much different than theirs and she struggles to make connections. Her dogged devotion to her students slowly breaks down barriers and using her own money she buys composition books in which they can write about their lives – abuse, violence, neglect, hope, and dreams.

More than one tear will be shed while watching this movie that shouts that our humanness ties us together and that perseverance in following your dreams despite overwhelming odds is a battle worth fighting.

3. Race to Nowhere

Year: 2009

Rated: PG-13

Directors: Vicki Abeles, Jessica Congdon

Genre: Documentary

The idea for this powerful documentary came about after Vicki Abeles’ middle-school daughter became physically ill from the pressure to succeed. Race to Nowhere takes a critical look at the systemic problem of pushing kids to the brink in the American education system. Burdened students, burned-out teachers, and worried parents tell their stories.

This is one of those educational movies that will have you thinking about your own priorities and whether you’re taking on too much. If you’re an education major, this is a must-see in the category of films for students!

4. Lean on Me

Year: 1989

Rated: PG-13

Actors: Morgan Freeman, Beverly Todd, Robert Guillaume

Genre: Drama/Action

New Jersey’s Eastside High School is a derelict war zone with rampant violence, drugs, gangs, and a student body that isn’t learning. The school is set to be turned over to State administration unless 75% of the students can pass the minimum skills tests. The new principal, known as “Crazy Joe” is hired right away and shakes things up in a big way. Do his students succeed? You’ll have to watch it!

Lean on Me is clear about its messages that life often involves some very hard choices, fierce dedication has the power to change lives, and that students in lower socio-economic areas are too often cast away.

5. Theory of Everything

Year: 2014

Rated: PG-13

Actors: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones

Genre: Romance/Drama

Astrophysics student Stephen Hawking trying to determine a thesis topic. After a lecture on black holes, he surmises that these holes may have been a part of creation and decides to write about them. He’s diagnosed with motor neuron disease and is told what that means. His love, Jane, is determined to stay with him but after several years of trying to raise children, care for Stephen, and manage writing her own thesis, it’s apparent that the marriage is no longer realistic. But the divorce isn’t the end of the story.

The themes in this fascinating film include endurance, perseverance in the face of hardships, and selfless love. The theory of everything needs to be on the list of best movies for the classroom!

6. The Social Network 


Rated: PG-13

Actors: Jessie Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield

Genre: Drama/History

This is one of those educational movies that anyone who uses the social media platform Facebook should watch! It traces the journey of jilted boyfriend Mark Zuckerberg as he creates a platform called Facemash which allows others to rate girls on their attractiveness. Zuckerberg is found out and given academic probation but invited to help run a social network for Harvard students developed by three others. Zuckerberg then approaches an investor about his idea for Facebook and conflict is born. The twins are incensed and as Facebook becomes wildly popular a trail of lawsuits begins to follow Zuckerberg.

This movie should be listed among the ideal educational films for older students. It will challenge your ethics, make you question why and how you use social media, and create discussions around privacy and internet safety.

7. Life of Pi 


Rated: PG

Actors: Saraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Rafe Spall

Genre: Adventure/Drama

A great story about a man named Pi whose family owns a zoo. His father decides they will move to Canada and will sell the animals there. A terrible storm sinks the ship and Pi finds himself in a lifeboat with a zebra, an orangutan, a hyena, and a tiger. Eventually, it’s just Pi and the tiger after the hyena kills the zebra, and the orangutan and the tiger kill the hyena. When he is rescued he tells this story but nobody believes him. And then, a twist.

On the surface, this seems to be one of those fantastical movies for the classroom that students will enjoy. But there’s much more to it and will raise questions about survival, truth in storytelling, and faith.

8. The Blind Side

Year: 2009

Rated: PG-13

Actors: Sandra Bullock

Genre: Sports/Drama

Based on a true story of a teen who has bounced around foster care due to a drug-addicted mother. He gets a break when a friend’s father asks the football coach of a Christian school to help enroll him. He makes the team but struggles with places to live and when the mom of a teammate finds out he’s sleeping outside, she invites him home. Slowly he becomes part of this family despite the many challenges and bumps along the way.

The Blind Side is a heartwarming tale about looking beyond outward appearances, trust, loyalty, the power of athletics, and that family isn’t always blood.

9. Girls Rising

Year: 2013

Rated: PG-13

Producers: Kaycee Freed, Tom Yellin, Holly Gordon

Genre: Documentary

Girl Rising is a global movement for education that was born from this film that features the stories of nine girls from different locations around the world. They share their struggles to overcome the cultural and social barriers that females in their countries face daily.

This film will teach you about the struggles that females face in other countries because of social and cultural barriers and how they fight for an education.

10. The Great Debaters

Year: 2007

Rated: PG-13

Actors: Denzel Washington, Forest Whitaker

Genre: Drama/Romance

A debate coach at a historically black college strives to see his team considered equal with white teams during the racist era of Jim Crow, lynching, and beatings. Black people were not allowed to be full members of the debate society and any win against a white team was not recognized – even a championship.

This is one of the more powerful films for students as we grapple with our history and our future.  Topics include racism, Jim Crow, perseverance against all odds, and being a champion at heart.

11. A Plastic Ocean 

Year: 2016

Rated: Not rated

Producer: Craig Leeson

Genre: Documentary

What began as a search for the elusive blue whale ended in the discovery of plastic trash in what should have been a pristine ocean. Journalist, free diver, scientists, and researchers document their travels to 20 locations around the world to discover just how much plastic waste has fouled our oceans and how that’s impacted those creatures who live in its waters.

This film will likely leave you stunned as you begin to understand the scope of how humans are destroying the planet. It will inspire you to take the small steps that can make a difference.

12. Into the Wild 

Year: 2007

Rated: R

Actors: Emile Hirsch, Marsha Gay Harden, William Hurt

Genre: Biographical/Drama

A young man, disenchanted with modern society, treks, completely unprepared, into the Alaskan wilderness. In his backpack are a few camping supplies, meager clothes, and a bag of rice. He intends to live off the land but he discovers Alaska exacts a heavy price from the foolish.

Into the Wild touches on several themes including humankind’s longing for simpler times, living life connected to the Earth, mental health, the cost of being unprepared for challenges, and the sheer strength of the human spirit.

13. The Pursuit of Happyness

Year: 2006

Rated: PG-13

Actors: Will Smith, Jaden Smith, Thandiwe Newton

Genre: Drama

A hardworking but down-on-his-luck salesman has a chance encounter with a partner of an investment firm. This gives him the opportunity to become one of 20 unpaid temporary interns competing for one permanent job at the company. But the financial tension dissolves his marriage and soon he’s on the streets with his young son in tow. Despite the trials and tribulations, he sets his sights on beating out all the other interns for that full-time position.

This moving feature film teaches the audience that nothing is impossible, that sometimes hard work does indeed pay off, and that there is still compassion in this world.

14. A Beautiful Mind 

Year: 2001

Rated: PG-13

Actors: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ron Howard

Genre: Drama/Romance

An Ivy League student, with a brilliant mathematical mind, attracts the attention of the Pentagon and is invited to help decipher encrypted enemy communications. Things go south when he begins to struggle with schizophrenia which manifests itself in an imaginary world of spies and intrigue.

A Beautiful Mind tackles the often misunderstood world of mental health in general, and schizophrenia in particular. Viewers will understand how important a good support system and medical care are and the film helps to destigmatize mental illness.

Final Thoughts

Educational movies are a key component of learning and the majority of films aren’t written just to entertain. There are messages of hope, endurance in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, and the power of the human spirit.

Movies can challenge you to be and do better and to take the first steps to make the world a much better place. Take every opportunity to enjoy a great movie and some popcorn and consider the message the writers and actors are trying to convey!

At UoPeople, our blog writers are thinkers, researchers, and experts dedicated to curating articles relevant to our mission: making higher education accessible to everyone.